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Hello, friends! I’m delighted to welcome Alice McVeigh to the blog today to celebrate the upcoming (June 30) release of her new novel, Susan, a prequel to Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. Alice is here today to talk about the inspiration for Susan and share an excerpt and giveaway. Please give her a warm welcome!


“I wanted a little more connection between Susan Smithson and Lady Susan. Lady Susan is a great villainess. Here, while Susan was manipulative at 16, she wasn’t even remotely horrible.”  

(One of my own four-star reviews on Goodreads)

I was expecting this.

If you check out the thousands of sequels and prequels of Jane Austen’s novels, two facts leap out. 

First: P&P rules, completely. 

Second: Lady Susan almost never features.  

The second fact comes as no great surprise, because Austen’s Susan really was pretty ‘horrible’!

When not busying herself trying to attract her hostess’ brother, she was attempting to bully her gentle daughter into marrying a man she loathed. In fact, she was only originally obliged to visit the family mansion in order to escape from the wrath of her lover’s wife.

In short, Susan is unique in all of Austen’s books: a manipulative, untruthful, unfaithful charmer, with a knack for making the wrong men fall for her. (Yes, Mary Crawford and Maria Bertram were both willing to condone adultery. However, they were still never flirts in Susan’s class. Susan, even at age 35, casually seduces a married man. Basically, think Lydia Bennett on steroids!)

For that reason, it’s really pretty hard to find a redeeming quality in Austen’s Lady Susan. However, I still sighed when I read this comment, and this is why: I simply cannot believe in a ‘villainess’ of sixteen.

I just can’t accept that any creature, fictional or not, could do it in the time.

Austen’s Lady Susan is in her mid-thirties (a corrupted Maria Bertram, perhaps?) and I believe in her perfectly. But at sixteen? She’d have been a potential villainess at that age—and even that seems doubtful.

In my new book Susan is a youthful orphan dependent on her uncles (one being the Rev. Collins of P&P fame). She’s witty, lively and mischievous but not wicked, and most of her sly manoeuvres occur forwarding her beloved Alicia’s love-life.  She deceives, but only to assist her cousin – there’s nothing in the match to benefit her – and the reader is pulling for her all the way.

But I believe my Susan Smithson to be entirely compatible with Austen’s Lady Susan all the same. Why?

First, because people change!  The ‘you’ when you were sixteen – and perhaps some people reading this are only sixteen – will seem very dull to the ‘you’ that you’ll be at 26, or 36, or 46. Your goals are almost certain to have changed, and some of your beliefs too. You will have deepened and altered, possibly in unpredictable directions.

Secondly, Austen, though one of the greatest geniuses ever to live, was only eighteen when she wrote Lady Susan, which she never rated highly enough to submit for publication. She was still developing her astonishing talent.

Her characterisations in this book are, for an artist of her calibre, disappointingly one-sided: Susan’s worldly confidante Alicia seems almost a twin of Susan herself, while both Susan’s daughter and sister-in-law appear to be almost implausibly perfect. (There is one exception: the impulsive Reginald develops and matures as he learns to ‘read’ Lady Susan.) In particular, the light and shade of a Mary Crawford are almost entirely missing—which is why, I suspect, Austen never even tried to publish it.

So how and why do I imagine that Susan might have changed, from my own mischievously appealing heroine to Austen’s villainess?

My own theory, for what it’s worth, is summed up in this excerpt from my own book:

Susan could not endure the idea of giving up riding, at which she was becoming, after very few lessons, surprisingly accomplished. But what if this pleasant dream – and the dream of cantering by the river with Frank Churchill – might be thwarted by Lady Catherine’s daughter?

It began to rain, and the cousins trod in silence under a single umbrella.

‘Someday,’ vowed Susan rebelliously, ‘I shall not always have to walk. Instead I shall ride – my own horse, too – a shining, splendid, mane-tossing, foot-stamping horse – perhaps a black one like Frank Churchill’s, if not quite so tall. Someday I shall have my own carriage, and my own servants to attend me. And someday, surely, I shall be well-married, and wear gowns like the delicious one Miss Richardson wore yesterday, a gown that falls in tiny folds from the bodice. Someday I shall be able to do exactly what I like, and not have to collect eggs from the chickens or be obliged to listen to my uncle pontificating about the poor, when all he cares about is his newspaper and his humble abode and the next position which Lady Catherine or her connections might make possible for him… Someday I shall never have to fret about threadbare shoes or mending gowns, or any nuisances of that sort, ever again!’

In short, I think that such ambition, allied to such charms, and exposed to the corrupting habits of London—Austen always seemed to distrust the lure of London—might very well turn my delightful sixteen-year-old Susan into Austen’s worldly temptress, over the course of her next nineteen years.

Susan longed for wealth and independence; she had the weapon of her beauty and a touch of unscrupulousness in using it; she increasingly understood the influence of society; and she possessed a taste for finery and display.

In short, all the ingredients existed for my Susan to transition into Austen’s Lady Susan.

How might that happen?—That’s another story!


About Susan

Susan is a Jane Austen Prequel (or Pride and Prejudice Variation) brilliantly capturing Austen’s own Lady Susan as a young girl.

As the BookLife review put it for Publishers Weekly: “McVeigh’s prose and plotting are pitch-perfect. Emma mingles with Pride and Prejudice in a delightful confrontation between the two books’ worlds… This Austen-inspired novel echoes the master herself.”

Familiar characters abound – Frank Churchill, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy himself – but Susan – mischievous and manipulative – is the star. This is Austen that even Austen might have loved, with a touch of Georgette Heyer in the romantic sections. Fans of Bridgerton will also relish this classic regency romance, the first in a six-book series.

Sixteen-year-old Susan Smithson – pretty but poor, clever but capricious – has just been expelled from a school for young ladies in London.

At the mansion of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she attracts a raffish young nobleman. But, at the first hint of scandal, her guardian dispatches her to her uncle Collins’ rectory in Kent, where her sensible cousin Alicia lives and “where nothing ever happens.”

Here Susan mischievously inspires the local squire to put on a play, with consequences no one could possibly have foreseen. What with the unexpected arrival of Frank Churchill, Alicia’s falling in love and a tumultuous elopement, rural Kent will surely never seem safe again…

Buy on Amazon (release date: June 30, 2021)


About the Author

Alice McVeigh is not sixteen, having lived in seven countries and visited 44 (mostly playing the cello in London orchestras). London-based, she writes speculative fiction as Spaulding Taylor, works as a ghost writer, and has twice been published by Orion/Hachette in contemporary fiction. Susan, a Jane Austen Prequel, recently received 10 stars out of 10 in Publishers Weekly’s current BookLife Prize.

Visit Alice’s website.


Giveaway

Alice is generously offering a mug featuring the Susan bookcover and Romney painting to one lucky reader. This giveaway is open internationally and will close on Saturday, June 19, 2021. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you, Alice, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new book.

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